Saturday, June 24, 2006


Well, I had a great post all ready to go, worked on it all morning -- and when I went to load my first-ever image on this very blog -- Safari crashed and shut down. Boom.

So, the hell with it. I had written all this great stuff about what I've been up to the past four weeks, including a post of The Last Broadcast cover art, and it's all gone, and I've no time left to fritter away at the task anew.

Basically, I've hit the walls of what's viable with dial-up only access, and have no affordable options open to Marge or I to change that when we're at home. In fact, among the "invisible" work I've juggled the past few months (including three regional Board of Directors positions) is the Marlboro Broadband Committee I chair and the Windham County Five-Town Cooperative I'm part of as the Marlboro Committee chair.

Since I lost the morning's labors, lucky you, you get to read the minutes (slightly edited to remove contact info I composed for the last two committee meetings. This is part of what I do, week in and week out, all in hopes of getting broadband access most of you take for granted here in our own home.

More later, including livelier reading and some new Bissette art online (at last!), if Safari "lets" me --

Note: For the time being, Marlboro Elementary School provides Marlboro residents with their only access to a T1 line for high-speed internet access. Jess Holzapfel on duty, MES Library, Tuesdays from July 11th through August 15th, 1-7 PM -- that's when the public can come in and access the T1 line.

May 27, 2006 Marlboro Broadband meeting minutes


Stephen Bissette
Clea & Alistair (last name?)
Jim Mahoney
Patrick Moreland
Callie Newton
Gregg Noble (Optima)
Alfredo Varela
Jane Wilde

Not in attendance, but interested to work:

Mike Andreotta
Augusta “Gussie” Bartlett
Andrea McAuslan (consultant)
Meg McCarthy

We opened the meeting with introductions all around; note, please, that Callie Newton is presently part of the Marlboro selectboard; Alistair is a software engineer; Patrick Moreland works with CABA, and as such immediately mentioned his experience in proposal and grant-writing and management, offering his skills in that capacity; and that Gregg Noble is the Chief Operating Officer at Optima Computers in Brattleboro, and was attending to offer whatever information and input Optima can extend to reaching our collective goal.

All attending had read the information on the Marlboro Broadband Committee website, and Steve Bissette hosted and moderated the meeting.

Bissette passed around the Dummerston May 17 meeting handout “Broadband on the Hill” by Tom Lowell, and with Jim Mahoney’s input offered a summary of the Dummerston meeting, the resulting five-town cooperative in the works, and Marlboro’s involvement with that effort with the ultimate goal of bringing broadband access to Marlboro residents and the cooperative town members.

* Gregg Noble of Optima opened with comments on what system might be most applicable to Marlboro’s needs. The frequency most likely to be used would be a 900 megah. system, which “can shoot through trees and bend” around our topography to some extent. He noted, too, that there is an agreement in place wherein ANY VT state property is accessible for installations necessary to wireless access, and that solar power can be used for towers necessary to the system, using high points that currently have no electrical lines. Gregg also said Optima “may have a solution” to providing an alternative to T1 lines.

We noted that the cooperative would own the towers necessary to any such system.

Gregg noted that Optima’s model -- which has been used to bring broadband to Dunmore, VT -- uses a point-to-point system (similar to Tim Flesher’s LastMileNet model), but whereas LastMileNet uses a “fixed model”, Optima’s involves something slightly different. At the end point of point-to-point, each customer “serves” a MESH network (“802-11”) serving those within 300 ft. of each home access point [note from SRB: I don’t know if I’ve adequately covered/described this difference via my hasty notes -- Gregg?]

There followed some discussion of:

* Likely ‘high points’ in Marlboro for placement of towers. There is apparently a tower on Ames Hill Road on a private residence, which is rented to VT Yankee; the Molly Stark fire tower was mentioned.

(Note: Andrea McAuslan followed up on this point via email:

“The tower is on my property on Cowpath Forty. I rent land to the owner of the tower, who leases space on the tower to a number of businesses and organizations, ENVY being only one of them. Yankee should not be called. The person who should be called is -- [info deleted for this post]"

Thanks, Andrea!)

* Patrick asked if coaxal cable “strung house to house” might provide an option (unwieldy/unlikely in Marlboro), and opened discussion of satellite.

Though the general opinion of those having satellite indicated extreme dissatisfaction (Jane Wilde sarcastically referred to, in the rainy weather we’ve had, “a two-week delay” in her signal/service), the upcoming LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellite option prompted brief discussion and its probable difficulties given Marlboro’s topography (Patrick: “That’s not likely to fail”).

* Patrick also asked what “technical structure” would be necessary to any point-to-point system in Marlboro. Jim, Steve etc. followed up on the Dummerston proposal: the advance the necessary infrastructure, Marlboro and/or the five-town cooperative would have to establish a private cooperative, essentially to finance and construct the towers, repeaters, etc. for point-to-point for for-profit companies like Optima, LastMileNet, etc. to then utilize and service.

* Patrick also noted the recently-passed May deadline for a USDA grant that might be applicable, which opened up discussion of grants.

Alfredo asked what info exists on relevent grants.

* Al and Laura Duey at the Vermont Rural Broadband Project were discussed, with Gregg noting they are quite effective, providing “an informed neutral presence” in such endeavors.
[By the meeting’s conclusion, Jane Wilde volunteered to contact Al and Laura and follow up; I gave Jane my copy of the initial contact letter from Laura.]

* Discussion returned to the option of stringing cable/line, and the differences between thick and thin fiber optic cable (thick cable is designed to carry signals at full strength over long distances). Gregg followed up on this with the following points:
- Another avenue for research is the fact that municapalities have the right to use existing poles and string lines.
- T1 lines can be strung NOW at a cost of approximately $400 per month
- Discussion of DSL, copper cable, Verizon’s existing three-mile limit from “Remote Deslam” (“green box” transfer stations; our closest is in Brattleboro, well over 3 miles away), and the obstacle this represents.

* Alfredo raised the possibilities of bringing some political pressure to relevent authorities and our VT Legislature and representatives, if only to push for further funding of extant state programs we might be eligible for.

Patrick noted the VT Community Development Program “funds a wide ranged of projects around the state... but one has to be a municapality to access funds...”.

* This led to discussion of the existing five-town cooperative project Marlboro is now part of. Alfredo expressed the viability of expanding that cooperative to TEN towns, which prompted discussion of the channels we need to pursue, either as a part of the cooperative OR as a town:

1. Technical -- research and prepare a report on the technical solutions possible, including all relevent mapping, topography issues, assessment of available technologies, etc.

2. Grants & Funding -- research and pursue all available funding options for building the needed infrastructure for a viable point-to-point system (which may involve multiple solutions and service providers).

3. Political -- research and aggressively pursue all political options, contacts, and campaigns relevent to bringing broadband ASAP to rural communities like Marlboro.

Followup & Conclusions:

Note that the work already underway by Jim and Steve for the five-town cooperative addresses key ‘bedrock’ fundamentals necessary to (1) Technical -- they will continue and complete that work.

Jane Wilde volunteered to contact Laura and Al Duey, as well as Jack Hoffmann, Executive Director of the VT Broadband Council, who recently gave the presentation at Mt. Snow on this issue.

Callie offered to follow through, once we had something “in hand,” with the Marlboro Selectboard; to be discussed & acted upon once further necessary preliminary work is completed.

Patrick offered to research the Funding options, and to “connect with Jim [and] the antennae guy” (I didn’t quite follow this, but Jim did).

Alfredo volunteered to begin pursuing the political options open to us, and work up a letter or letter template to this end.

Clea offered to make investigative phone calls to VT Yankee to ask about the standing tower, and find out more about that.

Gregg made it clear he is interested and engaged, distributing his contact info among the group; he will also be attending the next Dummerston meeting on June 15th.

(Note: Andrea emailed the following concerning the political issues:


This being an election year, everyone is up for re-election in November. Dummerston/Putney is going to have a Democratic primary, as well. It might be good to think about a public forum in October focused solely on broadband issues for Windham County.

Carolyn Partridge, who represents Windham/Rockingham/Grafton currently is Majority Leader (the Speaker's first lieutenant/confidante), and there are others in the county who have plenty of power in Montpelier, assuming they are running again, and get re-elected.

July 17th is when major party (Dem, Repub, Prog) candidates have to file their petitions to run -- even if there is not a contested primary, there is a primary vote in case someone is running a write in campaign. The primary election is September 12th; last day to register is Sept 5th at noon. The general election is Nov. 7th; last day to register is Oct. 30th at noon.

Statewide candidates, especially for governor and lt. governor, should also be targeted for letters, phone calls, etc. In the fall, when forums start happening, locally and statewide, and on VPR and VPT, be sure to call in questions regarding rural access for broadband. Stress the economic/business angles. Money talks.”

Thanks again, Andrea. Via email, I suggested Andrea and Alfredo consider working together on the political issues; up to them, of course.)


Windham County 5-Town Cooperative/Dummerston Meeting, 6/15/06

Steve Bissette, Marlboro
Tom Bodett, Dummerston
Leigh Brady, Putney
Benji Crasin, Putney
Tim Flesher, Great Auk/LastMileNet
Tom Lowell, Dummerston
Meg McCarthy, Marlboro
Steve Mindel, Dummerston
Gregg Noble, Optima/Great Auk
Reg Rockefeller, Dummerston
Kevin Ryan, Dummerston
Gregg Scragg, Dummerston
Betsy Whittaker, Dummerston

The meeting was held in the church basement nearest the Dummerston Town Offices; though fewer attended than expected, the meeting still proved productive.

The meeting opened with introductions, during which Tom Lowell quickly updated the group on his plans for a tower and T1 line (“almost there”) on his property at the corner of Cemetary Road in Dummerston. He noted that it was now imperative that a means of funding is arrived at, preferably with the proposed five-town cooperative in place. Tom made it clear, he is ready to move ahead, with or without the cooperative, though he hoped to do so WITH the cooperative, or able to retroactively deal with the funding issues (i.e., fund-raising, reimbursement, etc.) as part of the cooperative.

Tom Bodett and Kevin Ryan reiterated the Dummerston Broadband poll (out of 950 mailed, 450 responded, 250 expressing their desire/need for broadband access), noting that 314 residences on the Dummerston 9-1-1 map presently had no broadband access.

A discussion of the “price point” threshold followed, leading to further conversation on the Dummerston situation and sharing of the Dummerston map with the group, which opened circulation and discussion of the various town mapping that had been completed.

Tom Lowell passed around the Dummerston topographical/9-1-1 map, highlighted with markers to indicate broadband access and lack of broadband access. Steve Bissette distributed copies of the Marlboro topographical/9-1-1 map prepared by Jim Mahoney, noting that only TWO Marlboro locations presently have broadband access: Marlboro College on South Road and Marlboro Elementary School on Route 9, each serviced by T1 lines. [Note: I also covered all the Marlboro population and resident count specs -- 477 residences, none currently with DSL or broadband access, save for less than half-a-dozen with unsatisfactory satellite service. - SRB]

At this point, Tim Flesher arrived, using the Marlboro map to note the placement of existing towers in Marlboro. Discussion followed, concentrating on the methodology of determining which locations in Marlboro might best serve as placement for towers to establish service for the largest portion of the community; this led to discussion of the same issue for Dummerston.

Leigh Brady presented the Putney mapping, appropriately color coded (she had a large presentation map prepared, not handout copies), and its specs: 1058 units, of which only 320 have dial-up broadband access at this time. Leigh (and Benjie Crasin) discussed the particulars, noting which locations have DSL or coverage, and how the western half of Putney and all points east of interstate 91 (along River Road) do not have access. Tim Flesher indicated that a sizable region of West Putney is about to be covered by LastMileNet (also note Gregg Noble and Tim Flesher indicated that Tim is now working with Gregg and Great Auk, and is no longer with LastMileNet).

Tom Bodett and Tom Lowell redirected discussion to the need and nature of the proposed cooperative. Tom Lowell asked Gregg and Tim to address their business and potential (or preferred) methods of dealing with such a cooperative. Both did so: Gregg affirmed it would be preferable to work with a cooperative, that would own the infrastructure (e.g., towers, “radios,” hardward, etc.), while Tim noted the average cost of needed equipment per person served would be between $500-700 (Tim charges $250-300 up front fees at present). Gregg noted the Great Auk model is funded in part by advertisers and subscribers (the ads appear on the homepage), and the importance of the five town representatives filling out the Great Auk/Optima application forms Gregg emailed to the group.

Reg Rockefeller noted that Verizon recently refused installation of a T1 line to her home unless she changed service to a business line; via, the cost of a T1 line is presently $350-432 per month, a prohibitive amount for most (if not all) individuals. Clearly, the need to form the cooperative and proceed with a communal solution to this dilemma is vital.

Intensive discussion followed of the proposed cooperative’s means, methods and strategy (or strategies), and the need to complete the present mapping project for all five towns to arrive at mapping of potential towers, serviced areas and frequencies. Discussion of T1 lines, repeaters, and the problems presented by metal roofs followed, leading Tom Bodett to ask “How should we approach forming this cooperative and making our plan?”

This is imperative, and the cooperative may have to exist as a legal entity before various funding options can be pursued. For instance: the group presently needs to raise $300 per town for the needed survey maps (see #2, below); who should the checks be made out to?

To exist, the cooperative must locate and employ or engage an accountant committed to the cooperative’s needs. Discussion followed, without resolution.

Discussion of zoning and placement of antennae issues followed, without conclusion at this time; further research is necessary.

The group determined the following course of action must be pursued ASAP, in preparation for the next meeting (tentatively July 11 or July 18th):

1. Topographical/population maps: incorporating the town 9-1-1 maps and town topographical maps. Some of this has been completed, some has not, or is in progress.

2. Survey maps by/for Optima/Great Auk, to determine best tower/repeater placement and coverage per town:
An estimate for this process was discussed with Gregg and Tim. The mapping per town will cost $2000-3000 per town plus $250 per tower site determined; a total of $4000-5000 per town.

3. Photos of Antennae:
It was requested that photos of the various tower/antennae structures be provided by Great Auk for posting on the town broadband sites, so that homeowners/property owners being approached for possible tower sites would have a clear idea of what kind of structures are being proposed. Gregg said this was no problem, and photos (of at least four variations) will be provided for online posting.

4. Local Searches, per Town, for the Best Viable Sites:
The need for Tim and/or Gregg, and the respective towns, to participate in active searches for ideal sites for tower placement is pressing. This process can only be done in person with the active participation of Gregg and/or Tim, to observationally check and determine (a) best “views” for tower placement, (b) power sources and (c) whether phone lines are nearby (not required, but preferred). This is to arrive at:

5. Each Town Proposing TWO Tower/Antennae Sites:
In conjunction with, prep for, or based upon the completion of (4), each town should by next meeting propose the two “most robust sites” in their community for tower placement.

To complete #4 and 5, it was determined that each town should come up with the modest sum of $300 per town for this process.

The meeting closed with a proposed meeting date of July 11 (if that isn’t good, July 18th is our alternative) -- to be determined via email exchange with the group. The hope/need for Walter and Jodie French’s involvement in the July meeting was noted; meeting adjourned.

Well, them's the minutes -- reflecting weeks of work in between -- I know, yawn. Who cares? Well, I care.

It's an uphill struggle we're in, and with no possible service on the horizon from Verizon or any other provider, it's all up to us as a community. We are, in this part of New England, essentially in the same position our predecessors were getting electricity and phone lines into the hinterlands -- harder still when you're between towns with the services (here, broadband access) we're aching for.

But I know this concerns none of you, really -- though it may go some ways toward explaining to you what I'm up against daily dealing with the simple tasks (for most) of interfacing online with email, blogging and the internet.

More later today on livelier topics, if time and servers permit... but I reckon I won't be posting any art here in the interim.


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